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Missoulians advocate for safety study on Reserve Street | #schoolsaftey


MISSOULA – Reserve Street in Missoula is one of the busiest streets in all of Montana, which makes it one of the most dangerous.

Data shows that in 2021 alone, there were over 2,500 crashes on Reserve Street. That same year, the top five most dangerous intersections — based on city-wide crash numbers from the Missoula Police Department — were also on Reserve Street.

A group of residents have spent the last four years persuading the city to pass legislation and allocate money to improve the safety of the busy road. Within this group, almost everyone has their own — or knows of someone — with a close call on the road. 

The Reserve Street Public Working Group was founded in 2018 by Kevin Davis, a local business owner in Missoula.

He hosts weekly Zoom meetings with various public speakers, including city officials, local residents, and even people experiencing houselessness. Those are held on Tuesdays at 9 a.m.

“I call it authentic public engagement because we don’t have that opportunity,” Davis says. “You go to city council tonight, and it’s important to listen, but there’s public comment. They listen to you, and they may or may not factor in what you’re saying. At our meetings, it’s authentic public engagement because we get to listen.”

While the group has made progress bringing awareness and sparking change — they were largely responsible for the installation of a median on the Reserve Street Bridge — Davis wants to see more from the city.

“Not a lot of attention has been given to it in terms of significant improvements, and we’re seeing high crash counts, high crash rates, fatalities, unfortunately, as recently as last week,” he says.

Still, the group’s pressure on the city has encouraged them to apply for the Safe Streets for All Grant with the United States Department of Transportation. The money would fund a $400,000 safety study that is meant to accomplish three things according to Deborah Postma, transportation planner for Missoula Parks and Recreation.

  1. Understand how reserve street functions today and how it will function in the future, both through data and public engagement.
  2. Analyze crash and safety components; identify priority intersections
  3. Provide alternative analyses for different Reserve Street contexts and identify priority intersections, including costs and impacts

Part of the power of the Reserve Street Public Working Group — and the reason they are able to affect change — is the spreading of personal experiences.
Lori Messenger shared her story with the group on June 6, 2023. Messenger moved to Missoula in 2000 with dreams of becoming a smokejumper, and she fulfilled that dream for eight years. She was first awakened to the true danger of Reserve Street when one of her close friends from her smokejumping days was killed by a car on Reserve Street. 

“That was kind of my first experience with huge heartbreak and loss about Reserve Street,” she says.

Claire Peterson

Lori Messenger has always enjoyed outdoor, active activities. She says she is a forward looking and tries not to dwell on the accident.

It wasn’t the last negative experience that Messenger had.

After her smoke jumping career, she earned a teaching degree at the University of Montana and taught at Seeley Swan High School for seven years. During her time at the school, one of her students was hit head-on by a semi. Messenger says they barely survived and sustained life-changing injuries.

Then, if not already enough, on January 15, 2023, Messenger was hit herself while crossing Reserve Street at Seventh Street. She was visiting her mother across the road, a route she had taken many times.

“You never think it will be you, I think that just seems like how human brains work,” she says.

There are only about 10 crosswalks on the entirety of the 5½ mile stretch of Reserve Street between Brooks Street and Interstate 90.

Walking to either Third Street or Mount Avenue to use the crosswalk would have added at least a mile to her journey. Due to the limited amount of sidewalks, many people make the same choice Messenger did.

“I think long ago Reserve Street served us fine when this was orchards out here, but now it’s neighborhoods, and it’s businesses, and it’s still being treated like a highway,” Messenger says.

The accident was severe, and Messenger was close to dying on impact, but she was rushed to St. Patrick Hospital, then flown to Seattle, where she spent a month in and out of surgery. But it was three months in Craig Hospital in Denver that taught her how to live in her new body.

“Learning life skills and how to move forward. And I’ve been home in Missoula for about a month,” she says. “I’m super happy to be home, and re-figuring my way out in the world. The problem still exists that my mom lives on the other side of Reserve.”

She is not alone in her story.

“Most Missoulians know someone who has been hurt on Reserve,” Messenger says.

The same day that Messenger presented for the Reserve Public Working Group, 19-year-old Brooke Stayner read a letter she wrote when she was 14 years old. As a freshman in high school, Stayner could already notice the dangers of Reserve Street.

“I think just being a kid on this side of town you realize quickly how serious it can be,” she says.

In elementary school, Stayner’s school bus was involved in a crash on Reserve Street and when she was 17, she called 911 for a pedestrian who was hit.

“I drive it myself, and it’s like a white knuckle street for me,” she says.

In her letter from five years ago — which Stayner has read countless times to city leaders — she explains her experiences and begs for local government to make changes.

“I know I want to live here when I’m older, and I want my little kids to feel safe and that I know that they can be safe,” she says.

Like Davis, Stayner has seen few changes on the busy road, so she hopes the safety study will be able to put in motion the necessary improvements.

“This traffic safety study can, I mean, it could save lives, and I think that’s something that people don’t realize,” she says. “They think it’s just putting money towards building better roads, but it’s really not building the better road, it’s saving somebody’s life in the future.”

BROOKE.jpg

Claire Peterson

As a long distance runner, Brooke Stayner says she often has to cross Reserve Street, and is fearful for her life every time.

The study will look at the section of road between Brooks Street and I-90, which is under the jurisdiction of the Montana Department of Transportation.

“Reserve Street is a part of the National Highway System,” Missoula Public Works and Mobility Director Jeremy Keene explains. “So it’s MDTs facility, but we work collaboratively with them through the MPO. So, the Metropolitan Planning Organization is the city-county-MDT governing body that allocates federal money in Missoula. So this grant effort is a collaboration of the MPO to apply for the money and work together to figure out those projects. It’s kind of a joint responsibility.”

North of I-90, near Grant Creek, is under the responsibility of the city. Keene says this section will be easier to address in the future, which is why the city has chosen to leave it out of the study.

Historically, MDT has been under-resourced and unable to prioritize Reserve Street, according to Keene, but the grant money could change that.

“This grant is really focused on safety,” Keene says. “So it’ll be a fairly data-oriented study looking at existing safety, either actual safety incidents or risks that we identify and then specific measures that we can take to improve those conditions.”

The study would include public engagement and opinion on what is seen to be needed most on Reserve Street, whether that’s additional signals, roundabouts or separated crossings.

“That’s part of what the grant will help us decide is what’s needed,” Keene says. “We’re really trying to understand how does Reserve Street fit in our transportation network. It’s a unique street because it has to serve both regional traffic going through town and local traffic that’s accessing all the commercial destinations and housing that’s around Reserve Street.”

Concrete changes won’t be made to Reserve Street until the study is done. And even after that, it could be 10 years in the future before any major improvements are seen. It’s a slow process, but Keene encourages Missoulians to be patient.

“Just people have to be patient, recognize that we only have so many resources and can only do so much at once. The grant, if we’re successful, is a good way to move things in the pipeline for those next steps that we need to take,” he says.

For Davis, focusing on incremental changes over time is better than nothing, “We’re working to do something about it, and we’re not going to overhaul or redesign this corridor overnight.”

KEVIN DAVIS.jpg

Claire Peterson

Kevin Davis is passionate about keeping Reserve Street safe, and that includes more than just traffic safety. He and the Reserve Street Public Working Group have came together to clean up trash and debris in several areas as well.

One way Missoula resident can help the process is by supporting the city’s grant application with letters of personal experience.

“Having people tell their story is really important for winning these grants,” Keene says. We as the city can provide the need and the data behind why we think it’s necessary but writing letters of support is really a good way for the community to weigh in and say this is something that we think is a priority and should see funding.”

Letters of support should be emailed to Deborah Postma at [email protected] with a cc for Kevin Davis at [email protected].

A template for the letter is seen below.

[Your header, optional; please return all letters to [email protected]. When returning the letter, please delete all the highlighted and bracketed parts.]
 
Pete Buttigieg
U.S. Secretary of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave. S.E.
Washington, DC 20590
Re: SS4A 2023 Reserve Street Safety Study

[Date]

Dear Secretary Buttigieg:

I am writing [on behalf of _____; or explain who you are here] to support the SS4A 2023 Missoula’s Reserve Street Safety Study planning and demonstration grant application. This study will span the length of the corridor from Brooks Street/Hwy-93 to I-90.

Reserve Street has been a focus of public concern and a prior MPO-led engagement planning process. The corridor serves the dual purpose of operating as a regional highway to move traffic through the City as part of the federal highway system while also providing access to local businesses and neighborhoods. This, combined with infrastructure deficiencies, makes the corridor unsafe and challenging for nonmotorized users to cross and travel on the corridor. Reserve Street is a key connection for many focused areas of development as well as city, county and federal investments. [tell your story/concerns here, either by editing the paragraph or deleting and telling it your own way]

The project will build upon the Missoula Community Transportation Safety Plan and Missoula Connect 2050 Long-Range Transportation Plan by developing a corridor safety study that will enable MDT and the City of Missoula to evaluate and prioritize safety improvements on the heavily travelled, high crash concentration corridor.

This safety study will provide the backbone for safety and connectivity improvements that will: [Pick the bullets that resonate the most with you/your organization. If you choose, you could make this section a paragraph. Please add, expand on, or adapt as you see fit.]

  • address infrastructure deficiencies, especially those affecting nonmotorized users.
  • support the community’s concerns and engagement.
  • address equity issues by providing safe connections to Missoula’s local amenities.
  • support and increase safe access to Missoula’s local businesses.
  • consider signal timing and performance measures to improve safety at intersections and support regional through-traffic.
  • provide for Missoula’s major residential development hotspot.

Sincerely,
[signature; please sign electronically or sign and scan.]
YOUR NAME
YOUR ORGANIZATION, if applicable





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